“I didn’t realize babies come with hats. You guys crack me up. You don’t have jobs. You can’t walk or speak the language. You don’t have a dollar in your pockets but you got yourselves a hat, so everything’s fine.”
–Toby Zeigler, The West Wing, “Twenty Five”
So Maggie, my girl, here is the story of your birth:
I had my first contraction at 12:05 a.m. on Sunday, November 17th. I had another one an hour later and told your daddy that although they were far apart, we might want to start keeping an eye on them. I had another contraction just before 2, and then I didn’t wake up again for another hour and 45 minutes. From then on, the contractions came randomly, some 20 minutes apart, some an hour apart. I didn’t sleep well at all.
By around 11 on Sunday morning, I knew you were on your way. The contractions were still irregular, sometimes 4 minutes apart, and sometimes 10. They were so, so painful. I told Daddy, “If this is just ‘early’ labor, I am in deep trouble.” I had said all along I wanted to give birth med-free, but I was beginning to doubt my ability to handle the pain. I think I was trying to come to terms with what I had a feeling was inevitable, that I would need an epidural.
Around 2, Daddy made me go for a walk. He wanted to see if that stopped the contractions or made them more regular. We walked for a long time, all around our neighborhood, and we quickly learned that it made the contractions more regular. I was down to 3-4 minutes apart. If I could walk through them, they were easier to take than if I stood still, so we tried to keep moving. We walked through the woods behind our house and found the biggest maple leaf I’ve ever seen. Daddy picked it up and brought it home with us.
We called the doctor when we got back, but they said it was still too soon to go to the hospital. I was both glad, because I still harbored hopes (if small ones) of going med-free (and the longer you labor at home, the less likely you are to get pain meds), and mad, because I was in so much pain and just the thought of being in the place where they could take care of me was a relief.
I continued to labor at home; when I sat or rested, the contractions got further apart but they hurt more. I begged Daddy to just take me to the hospital, but he knew that wasn’t the right thing. I was freaking out, to be honest. I had convinced myself that this amount of pain was out of the ordinary and that something must be wrong. We fought, your daddy and me, which I hate, and I cried big, scared tears, but in the end, he calmed me down and convinced me to go for another walk.
By then, the moon was out. I told you I knew you’d come during the full moon, right? I only lasted 30 minutes on the walk. By the time we got back, the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart, and the doctor finally said we could come in. Daddy loaded up the car with the bags we’d waited to pack until we were fighting, we called your grandparents to tell them you were on your way, and off we went. I had several contractions in the car that were almost unbearably painful. I did my best to do the breathing we learned in Lamaze class, and it helped a little, but they were really overwhelming.
Daddy dropped me off at the front of the hospital around 8:15 p.m. and went to park the car. A nurse came down to take me upstairs, but not before I had three contractions in the lobby while strangers walked by. Once I got to a triage room, I had to stay on the bed. The nurses put two monitors on me and asked me a million questions I couldn’t possibly be expected to answer. Thank goodness Daddy had made it upstairs by then.
Then the nurse wanted to do a cervical check. She waited until I was between contractions, but it was still the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever felt (but it would soon be topped – stay tuned). She said she couldn’t get a good “read” on how dilated I was, so she was going to have another nurse try. That one also sucked, but when she said she thought I was already 5-6 centimeters, I figured it was worth it – that was more than halfway. They moved me (on the bed – they brought in a wheelchair first, but realized there was no way) to our labor and delivery room at 9:30, where we would spend the next 15 hours.
It was chaos in there. I was having a hard time focusing on my contractions to breathe through them because of all of the commotion. They said I needed an IV – we asked for a hep lock or saline lock, still hoping I’d be able to get up and walk through labor. They said I was dehydrated and needed fluid, I had to have the IV. The nurse whose job it was to stick me was the worst, like she’d never tried to do this on someone in labor before. At one point, she was trying to stick me, the OB on call was about to do a cervical check, my nurse was pressing the monitor into my belly trying to locate your heartbeat, and I was having a contraction. I shouted for everyone to stop touching me, at least until the contraction was over. Poor Daddy was trying his best to advocate for me, but there were just so many people in there and they were all talking to me and I couldn’t hear them all at once and they didn’t seem to care.
The OB finally did her cervical check and I thought I was going to die. I have never felt pain like that before. I was screaming and trying to scoot up the bed away from her hand and sobbing, begging her to stop. She couldn’t feel what she needed to because I couldn’t be still. She came to my side and said, very kindly, “If you are having this much trouble tolerating the cervical check, I really, really recommend that you get an epidural.” I protested that cervical checks aren’t necessary and couldn’t we just go without and she said no.
I knew I was sunk. The anesthesiologist came in to talk to us. He asked us about our concerns and reassured me about each of them. I really can’t adequately convey the amount of pain I was in. I knew there was no way I could labor like that for much longer, but I was so conflicted about accepting the epidural. I asked Daddy if he’d be disappointed in me if I got it and he, of course, said no. I relented. The process of the epidural itself was something else altogether – imagine having to try to stay relaxed and still while contractions wrack your body. Our nurse, Emma, was my lifesaver here. I leaned my forehead on her chest, she put her hands on my shoulders, and spoke right into my ear, telling me what to do and how to stay calm. It was painful, but I tried to focus on the fact that at the end of it, I’d have relief and maybe even be able to sleep.
The epidural took about 20 minutes to fully take effect, but when it did – wheeeeeeeee! My whole lower body was numb and tingly. I could still tell when a contraction was happening, but it was basically painless. The nurse put my catheter in and my water broke shortly after that, around 10:45. When the doctor came back to check me again around midnight, it was like a walk in the park compared to the first time. Turns out I was only 4 centimeters, so they basically turned out the lights and left us to labor in peace, since they expected it to take about 6 hours to get to 10 centimeters. I was so relieved to be out of pain; I was already exhausted and looking forward to resting.
My parents showed up around 1 a.m. I offered them the keys to our house so they could get some sleep, but they opted to stick around. Papa went to sleep in the car and Grandma stayed in the room with us. Daddy pulled out the chair that turned into a bed and we both tried to sleep. I was able to rest fairly well, but I’m not sure I ever really fell asleep. Around two, the OB checked me and I was only 5 centimeters, but two hours later, I was up to 8. I figured we’d be ready to go around 6, but I was still not complete by then, so they had me “labor down,” which means to use gravity (by sitting more upright in bed) to help move you into position.
At some point, I started to get severe right lower back pain. It was excruciating, particularly during contractions, and changing positions did nothing to help. They called the anesthesiologist to give me what they called a “bolus” of epidural medicine, something a little different than what was in my drip, that would take the edge off the pain. When the anesthesiologist arrived, he asked me some questions to determine what kind of pain I was having. Apparently whatever I answered made him think I might be ready to push, so he held off on the bolus and instead told me to push the button on my epidural to release more medication. Shortly after that, the OB determined that I wasn’t far enough along to push, and I was still having the back pain, so a different anesthesiologist came and gave me the bolus. I remember wondering if it was too close in time to the button pushing, but when I asked about it, they said it was fine. I was immediately nauseous, though, from the combination of medicines, and spent a good five minutes vomiting. Since I’d had nothing to eat for the last 13 or 14 hours, couldn’t sit up completely, and was utterly exhausted, it was a really terrible 5 minutes.
Finally, around 8:45 or so, the doctor determined I was complete and ready to push. Grandma and Papa headed to the waiting room, Daddy came back from getting breakfast (he hadn’t eaten anything except the graham crackers he managed to pilfer from the clear liquids room since lunchtime the day before), and the nurses explained to me just what to do. This is where the epidural both came in handy and was a bit of a problem. One the one hand, because of the medicine, pushing did not hurt. Don’t get me wrong: It was HARD work, but it was not painful. On the other hand, because of the medicine (and likely exacerbated by the bolus and the last button push being so close to the time I started to push), I couldn’t feel if I was pushing in my bottom, the way the nurses said, so my first several rounds of pushes were not that effective. I knew when I needed to push, because I could feel the contractions start in the bottom of my left ribs and in my right hip bone, and I could hold my breath and bear down, but I couldn’t be sure I was focusing my pushing quite where it needed to be.
This is also where I needed pitocin. I’d hoped to avoid it, but for whatever reason, when it was time to push, my contractions went from 1-2 minutes apart to about 6 minutes apart. I asked if we could forgo the pitocin. The nurses said yes, but said it would make labor that much longer – probably 4 hours of pushing. Given that I’d basically been up for nearly 36 hours at this point, was starving, and really just anxious to meet you, Daddy and I agreed on the condition that they start me on the lowest dose possible. That worked out pretty well, though they did need to turn up the drip a little throughout the pushing.
As I said, pushing was hard work; I was getting four and sometimes five pushes per contraction, but because of the epidural, the early ones weren’t that effective. As it started to wear off a bit, I became more aware of where I was focusing my energy and I got better at it. Daddy was right there by my side the whole time, holding my head and encouraging me. Towards the end, he could see you coming out and he just broke down crying. I was watching his face, and during my last three or so pushes, we locked eyes and were crying together, me while trying to hold my breath.
I remember feeling like you must be super close to coming out, but I couldn’t be sure. All of a sudden, the doctor yelled, “Melanie, open your eyes!” and I looked down, and she pulled you out and then you were crying and Daddy and I were crying and I was laughing. I reached out for you and they put you on my chest and Daddy and I just cried and laughed. Then, I was holding your bottom and I felt something warm and wet, and I sort of shouted through laughter, “I think she peed on me!” And the nurse said, “And pooped!” And I did not care. The nurses rubbed you down and put a hat on you. They asked Daddy if he wanted to cut your cord and God bless him, he remembered to ask if it had stopped pulsing first, so at least that one thing went the way we hoped. He cried while he did it, and then he cried some more when he held you for the first time. There was lots and lots of crying, by all three of us. You were here, you were safe, and you were ours.
There’s more after all of this — meeting Grandma and Papa, what happened when the pediatrician said you had to go to the NICU, 12 days home already — but that’s the story of your birth. You took a long time to get here, both literally and figuratively, but Daddy and I knew you’d be worth the wait. We love you times infinity, little girl.
Maggie at 6 days old